Supporting the self-concept with memory: insight from amnesia

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Abstract

We investigated the extent to which personal semantic memory supports the self-concept in individuals with medial temporal lobe amnesia and healthy adults. Participants completed eight ‘I Am’ self-statements. For each of the four highest ranked self-statements, participants completed an open-ended narrative task, during which they provided supporting information indicating why the I Am statement was considered self-descriptive. Participants then completed an episodic probe task, during which they attempted to retrieve six episodic memories for each of these self-statements. Supporting information was scored as episodic, personal semantic or general semantic. In the narrative task, personal semantic memory predominated as self-supporting information in both groups. The amnesic participants generated fewer personal semantic memories than controls to support their self-statements, a deficit that was more pronounced for trait relative to role self-statements. In the episodic probe task, the controls primarily generated unique event memories, but the amnesic participants did not. These findings demonstrate that personal semantic memory, in particular autobiographical fact knowledge, plays a critical role in supporting the self-concept, regardless of the accessibility of episodic memories, and they highlight potential differences in the way traits and roles are supported by personal memory.

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